Folded Earth series reflects deep currents of inquiry that run through Tracy McMenemy’s work, while embracing new approaches to art making that engage and question our relationships with nature and technology.
Images of natural forms are pulled digitally via an Apple Pencil into simple shapes, as though they were colours applied by gestural brushstroke. While the aesthetic relies initially on technology, McMenemy’s process incorporates her painting and drawing sensibilities expressed through the movement of her whole body. Unlike on paper or canvas, with their surface fibres, the weight of frictionless contact between the metal pencil and the glass surface of the iPad ensures high fidelity to each nuance of the artist’s organic movement. There is a parallel to the history of film here; initially received as a mechanical and cold alternative to the live warmth of theatre, film began to reveal a greater intimacy of performance, as there was nowhere to hide from the sensitivity of lens and celluloid. Similarly, McMenemy’s use of digital platforms brings her closer to, not farther from, the truthfulness of response that characterizes her long established handling of more traditional materials.
These sparse images of Folded Earth highlight the focus on materiality, color, abstraction and spatiality, developed across her broader thesis. Negative space is a strong presence, and an extension of McMenemy’s careful placement of key imagery on considered backgrounds that characterize her earlier Ghost Passages series. Where that work incorporated blueprints as open backgrounds for associated chosen objects, here the background is empty space. More broadly, she continues her commitment to incorporating new techniques suited to the project at hand. Where yielding control to the elemental media of smoke on paper served Songs of the Smoke, here the sleek technology of metal stylus on glass serves the gestural immediacy of her in situ response to her location. In The Girls Are Coming! carefully researched archival materials served historical verisimilitude, whilst here, digital photography on portable devices ensures a present responsiveness to her current subject.
Folded Earth thus bridges McMenemy’s studio practice with the element of field work central to her oeuvre. The use of a specific application on an iPad frees McMemeny to respond artistically to the photographs with which she documents her natural surroundings, without leaving them. Here is a key to McMemeny’s deeper interrogation between organic nature and manufactured technology. While reliance on digital media of this current process facilitates a more immediate response to remote surroundings, we are still seeing the real and the unreal in these works. The photographic source material responds directly to nature. It is then morphed into natural forms through spontaneous physical gesture, but not without the specific digital platform that facilitates this process. Furthermore, these square images will take their place among the many images we receive through media, both online and in physical urban spaces. Is a tree from a source photograph still a tree after details from that photograph have been transformed, and placed in a new compositional space? Is there an agenda behind this as there is behind so many visuals we receive each day? As technology continues to evolve, and replace human tasking, what are the fundamentally human activities that it can not replace, and that must guide it?
While Folded Earth prompts such complex questions, the series answers with simplicity. Each piece is an invitation to behold a unique moment, which is a central part of what the artist herself is doing with these works.